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What Is Boundary Spanning Leadership?

Boundaries are natural and essential aspects of any organization. There are boundaries across job function, departments, levels of the organization, geographic location and more. However, many organizations settle into a complacent status of allowing these boundaries to become rigid silos that segregate and eventually impede growth. Effective leaders practice the ability to traverse boundaries in a way that moves the organization forward. They establish links and manage interactions across those boundaries. This is the essence of boundary spanning leadership.

The aims of this type of leadership are to:

  • Bridge boundaries to build and strengthen ties across the organization.
  • Establish direction, alignment, and commitment under a collective vision or goal.

Leaders at all levels believe boundary spanning to be a valuable skill, including:

  • 97% of senior executive-level leaders
  • 91% of middle management level leaders
  • 43% of entry-level leaders

What Are the Benefits of Boundary Spanning Leadership?

Identifying comprehensive solutions and presenting them to a diverse workforce are crucial steps in running a business today. This effort requires synthesizing information to create authentic connections with team members.

Boundary spanning leadership helps achieve this through:

  • Elimination of silos. More than half of companies work in silos, which can weaken relationships and trust among teams. Moreover, in today’s hybrid and remote environments, silos in the workplace are at greater risk. When traditional networking methods have diminished, boundary spanning leaders can encourage individuals to share information and bridge knowledge gaps.
  • Increased collaboration. Over 60% of companies express that collaboration across functions is key to achieving strategic goals and making quicker decisions. In addition, 98% of executives note collaboration as a top priority.
  • Enhanced change management skills. Research shows that 72% of transformations fail due to a lack of supportive behavior from leadership to support the change. Change management focuses on adaptability, communication, and innovation, and boundary spanning leadership can help individuals accomplish all these efforts. Boundary spanning leadership provides the fuel leaders need to employ holistic practices amid transitions.

Leaders have traditionally managed vertically, working upward with senior team members and downward with direct staff. In today’s ever-changing market, crossing boundaries horizontally and in other directions is essential to elevating your organization’s competitive advantage and performance. Boundary spanning opens new opportunities for learning and development.

What Are Some of the Main Boundary Types in the Workplace?

There are several types of boundaries in the workplace:

  • Horizontal: Between functions (e.g., expertise, departments, and peers)
  • Vertical: Between hierarchical levels of the organization (e.g., rank, seniority)
  • Stakeholder: Those outside of the organization (e.g., customers/clients, partners, communities)
  • Demographics: Variety of groups (e.g., gender, generation, personality, ethnicity)
  • Geographic: Between locations (e.g., regions, cities, markets, in office employees, remote employees)

Depending on an organization’s needs and overarching objectives, leaders can examine any of these five dimensions to strengthen ties and bolster collaboration efforts.

How Can You Approach Boundary Spanning?

The goal of boundary spanning leadership is to build connections across the business that create value. Achieving this aim requires empowering leaders to reflect beyond their functional areas and other areas of responsibility to see how their decisions and actions may be affecting other areas of the business. When individuals are confident in their collaboration and leadership abilities, problem-solving, accountability and business results will improve.

Leaders can elevate their boundary spanning abilities with the following actions:

1. Clarify boundaries
It may seem counterintuitive, but it is essential to first define and clarify boundaries before attempting to bridge or span those boundaries. This may require refining definitions or responsibility for each role within an organization or improving transparency about who is specializing in what. This clarifies how and when to effectively collaborate across functional boundaries.

2. Unite around a common purpose
What is the common ground, shared interest, or shared motivation between groups or individuals? When you as the leader help highlight the focus of what they have in common, you help them to see the need to join forces for their common goal. This empowers them to bring their various perspectives and experiences for a rich problem solving towards that common purpose.

3. Represent the team to stake holders
Sometimes to cross a boundary, an emissary or delegate is necessary. As a leader, you may be the one who is invited into decision making conversations with stake holders. If you understand your team’s needs and perspectives, you will be better prepared to represent their interests and advocate for collaborative solutions that will be win-win.

4. Implement effective strategies
Building the right boundary spanning strategy requires value-driven tactics. This effort entails being intentional in decisions and actions, which should nurture the development of workforce members and the organization.

Taking steps toward building a strategy might encompass:

  • Creating interdependent goals that encourage boundary spanning behaviors across teams and departments. The intention is to build new networks within the organization.
  • Taking business actions on behalf of the entire organization rather than thinking about a single business unit or team.
  • Crafting individual goals that not only possess a purpose-fueled vision but also create value for each person in the organization.

What Is an Example of Boundary Spanning Leadership?

Imagine that you are the leader of a company. Your business grows its client base across several industries (aerospace, automotive, medical, and dental). You observe your employees are working under a rigid and siloed culture; only the individuals assigned as formal leaders manage decision-making, causing conflicts between departments as they fail to see the impact of their decisions on other parts of the business. In addition, any conflict between team members across boundaries requires intervention from their designated vertical reporting structure of management, and therefore usually remains unresolved.

As the company leader, you decide the organization needs a more interdependent culture to uphold the versatile demands of the client base and improve effectiveness.

To drive this effort, you introduce boundary spanning leadership practices across the organization. Actions may involve:

  • Defining the culture of boundary spanning
  • Outlining specific actions and behaviors that illustrate how that definition should manifest day-to-day
  • Establishing interdependent goals that team members across various departments should strive to collectively achieve
  • Rolling out training programs that help nurture a cross-functional culture and collaboration levels, aiming to cross horizontal, vertical, and stakeholder boundaries in specific roles
  • Embodying boundary-spanning behaviors so that other workforce members may follow your example

This culture allows workforce members, regardless of their role, to feel empowered to strategize, innovate, and make decisions. Moreover, managing differences happens proactively and productively for the betterment of the organization. Your clients’ needs are met with more agility and effectiveness, and they entrust you with more business, consistently expanding your overall revenue.

What are the Benefits of Boundary Spanning Leadership?

Leaders who embody boundary spanning behavior can achieve the following for themselves and their organization:

  • Create and maintain healthy relationships across various structures, teams, and channels of the business
  • Confidently navigate ambiguity to meet objectives and deadlines
  • Successfully manage various data sets by being able to weave a common thread through them and present the data to a diverse group of workforce members
  • Increased agility to be responsive and proactively anticipate change
  • Improved innovation to maintain a competitive advantage
  • An engaged and empowered workforce at all levels of the organization

Elevate Boundary Spanning Leadership Opportunities with CMOE

Invest in your leadership by learning about CMOE’s Leadership Development Workshop. Our workshops and solutions help leaders master competencies and reach their full potential. We believe training should be ongoing, and our programs intend to create a culture of learning and development at every organization.